Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fish Flavoured Eggplant - Sichuan Style

 Eggplant has by far my favourite vegetable at the moment.  It has found it way to the top of my hit list thanks to places like Pepper Chilli, Chilli India and Sichuan House including it in some very mouth watering dishes on their lunch menus.  I have also adapted some of the eggplant dishes I have tasted and come up with my versions of Baingan Bharta - a spicy eggplant mash, and my mother-in-laws recipe for Shutki Baigan - eggplant with dried fish.  One of the dishes I most look forward to at Sichuan House is their fish flavoured eggplant concoction.  This dish has a very spicy, yet sweet sauce that coats the eggplant that is shaped like chips.  The most unique thing about the eggplant is crunch that you get when you sink your teeth into the saucy chips. Well my version does not achieve this level of crispiness - probably because I do not have an industrial strength deep fryer the get the crunch to precision.  What is lacking in crunch is definitely made up  for in the taste as fish flavoured eggplant is sure to please.  Something noteworthy is that nothing fishy goes into this dish yet it is named so.  I found out that the named derived from the preparation of a fish dish with similar ingredients.  Lost in translation somewhere it became known as Fish Flavoured Eggplant because it's probably easier to read on a menu than "Eggplant made with ingredients from a fish dish that gives it a fish flavour".  This recipe includes carrot and zuchinni that is diced and combined with the sauce to give it more body and some crunch.  Feel free to omit these if you want to stay true to the Sichuan house version, where it is all about the eggplant.
500g Eggplant, cut into chip-like pieces (this is done quite easily with long Asian eggplants)
1 tsp x Sichuan Pepper. lightly toasted and ground, reserve ½ tsp to sprinkle at finish
1 x Egg, beaten
100g x Cornflour, reserve a tsp mixed with equal water to thicken sauce 
Oil to deep fry
1 Tbsp x Ginger crushed
2 tsp x Garlic, crushed  
1 x Carrot, finely diced (optional)
1 x Zuchinni, finely diced (optional)
For the sauce
¼ cup x Chicken stock, reserve extra stock for increasing sauce quantity if desired
2 Tbsp x Chilli Bean Paste
1 tsp x Dark Soy
2 tsp x Light Soy
2 Tbsp x Black Vinegar
2 Tbsp x Shao Xing Wine
2 Tbsp x Tomato Ketchup
1 tsp x Brown Sugar
Spring Onions to garnish
"Some recipes omit the deep frying of the eggplant and just flash fry them in a hot pan before adding to the rest of the sauce ingredients to finish the dish  I have tried this way and have not enjoyed it as the eggplant does not hold its shape and the dish can become quite mushy in texture.  My taste testers also voted in favour of the deep fried eggplant.  As bad as it sounds to deep fry, my technique has always been to get the oil to an optimum heat of 190 degrees celcius as this will ensure and even coat of crunch and not allow for too much saturation of the oil.  I usually find I am left with almost the same amount of oil as I started.  Use a deep saucepan and a thermometer - it does sound finicky but is well rewarded."
Prepare the sauce first by combining all ingredients in a bowl and keep aside.
Heat a wok until very hot then swirl in a table spoon of oil followed by the ginger and garlic
Stir for half a minute then add the diced vegetables and fry for 2 minutes 
Now add half a teaspoon of ground Sichuan pepper and the prepared sauce and stir well to combine
Add extra stock if desired and sprinkle the extra Sichuan pepper to taste, adjust seasoning 
Whisk in the cornflour slurry and bring the sauce to a boil until it thickens slightly
Remove from heat an rest while you prepare the eggplant
Combine the cornflour and ground sichuan pepper in a plastic bag 
Dip the eggplant chips in the beated egg and then place in the plastic bag and shake
Do this in batches so the eggplant is evenly coated in the cornflour mix
Heat oil in a saucepan or deep fryer, use a thermometer if possible to determine when the oil is at 190 degrees celcius
Fry the eggplant in small batches until golden, then drain well on absorbent paper
Bring the sauce to the boil again and add in the fried eggplant
Fold gently to coat the eggplant with the sauce
Add a sprinkle of Sichuan pepper powder to finish
Garnish with sliced spring onions and serve immediately on steamed rice
To keep in the Sichuan style of things I added a quick spicy dish to tonights menu courtesy of another food blog click to navigate to the blog for the recipe,

Monday, February 20, 2012

Date & Banana Squares with Almond Praline - my very own petit fours

Anyone with a sweet tooth loves cake.  In my case I like the idea of small individual cakes that are easily eaten and look a treat on a platter - wooing you to give in to any resistance.  Bananas are always going black and over ripe at our place and sometimes the regular banana bread just wont do.  I love pairing banana with caramel and with this in mind I came up with the idea for these delectable squares.  A moist date and banana cake at the base with a rich cream cheese frosting and then to top it off, a generous sprinkle of almond praline - just for the crunch.  These cakes are not baked individually, instead it starts as a whole square slice and with careful geometrical cuts, become an elegant petit four arrangement.
For the cake - bake a square of your favourite tried and tested banana cake, I particularly like this one as the cake was nice and firm when it came to portioning it into squares 
200g x Dried dates, chopped
¾ cup x Hot water
1 tsp x Bicarb Soda
200g x Butter, cubed
¾ cup x Caster sugar
2 x Eggs
2 x Ripe bananas, mashed
2 Tbsp x Lemon juice
2 cups x Plain flour, sifted with;
1 Tbsp x Baking powder
Preheat oven to 180°C and prepare a non stick 20cm square cake pan with baking paper
Combine the water, chopped dates and bicarb soda in a bowl, and set aside as it bubbles up
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until  thick and pale 
Add eggs one at a time, beating again after each addition
Combine banana and lemon juice and add to butter mixture, stir through well. 
Fold in half the flour and baking powder to the wet mixture,
Followed by the dates and then the remaining flour mixture  
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan making sure to smooth the surface 
Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

When cooled completely, use a sharp bread knife to trim the edges of the cake, including the top  
Turn the cake upside down, the flat surface assists to spread the frosting evenly

Cream Cheese Frosting
125g x Cream Cheese, softened
50g x Butter, softened
1½ cups x Icing Sugar
1 tsp x Lemon Juice
With an electric beater, mix the cream cheese and butter until combined
Gradually beat in the icing sugar and the lemon juice until mixture is thick and firm
Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes then spread evenly onto the top of the cake
Use a rubber spatula to spread the frosting evenly

Almond Praline - you could make this while the cake bakes or even earlier as it will store well

½ cup x Caster Sugar
2 Tbsp x Water
¼ cup x Slivered Almonds, dry roasted for a few minutes in a hot pan
In a heavy non-stick saucepan combine the sugar and water
Place on medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves
Now increase heat to high and bring to the boil, do not stir
When mixture turns a golden caramel colour, remove from heat
Pour mixture directly onto a sheet of baking paper or silicone
Allow to stand for a minute before adding the almonds
Keep aside to cool completely then break into shards

Use a food processor to grind the praline shards into a coarse bread crumb like consistency 
Sprinkle the powdered praline generously over the iced cake and place the iced cake in the fridge for an hour to firm up nicely

Using a sharp bread knife carefully cut the cake into 16 squares 

Allow the cake to stand to room temperature before serving...Ooh La La!!! 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Poached Eggs with Basil Cream

While weekday morning hunger is satisfied with a simple bowl of cereal and milk, I find that the weekend calls for more fancy an item to adorn the plate as the first meal of the day. When I started this blog one of the first recipes I put it on was Basil Cream Eggs as a rather easy breakfast dish with gooey warm poached eggs. While I kept this recipe simple by using a basil infused cheese to create the sauce, it feels a little redundant in hindsight, as this cheese may not be particularly available to buy everywhere. So this is a redux of the recipe with a quick Basil Cream sauce - from scratch. And in response to a special request from a reader I have included the directions for poaching the eggs - just so you know! Try this one on this weekend - too easy!!! 
For the eggs
Place a deep frypan half filled with water on high heat and bring to the boil
Place the egg rings in the pan, three is probably maximum as you need room to transfer the eggs when cooked
Turn the heat down to low, a rolling boil would not allow the eggs to cook and set perfectly
Crack the eggs gently, one at a time into a small bowl or measuring cup. 
Ensure the yolk is still intact, fresh free range eggs would be best recommended here
Carefully pour the eggs into the rings allow to set for a minute
Now, with a spoon, gently bathe the eggs with the hot water, this helps to cook the tops, repeat as necessary
After the eggs have been in the hot water for at least four minutes they should be firm enough to transfer to a plate. 
"You will need a flat turner to ensure that the egg is not broken while transferring. This takes practice and it's very likely that one of the yolks will burst - it still happens to me even if I try to be as careful as possible." 
 For the Basil Cream Sauce, enough for 4 eggs
1 tbsp x Olive Oil, or melted butter if you are feeling naughty
1 clove x Garlic, crushed
3 tbsp x Cream
8-10 Basil leaves, torn roughly
1 tbsp x finely grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oil on low heat and add the garlic, stir and cook gently for 30 seconds
Add the cream and increase heat to bring to a gentle boil
Reduce heat again and put in the basil, stir to combine and allow to infuse for 2 minutes
Now add the parmesan cheese and stir through until melted and combined
Remove from heat and rest, sauce will thicken slightly on cooling
Now for breakfast
Toast a couple of large slices of bread to your liking and butter or drizzle a little olive oil on them
Place a handful of Baby Spinach leaves onto the hot toast
Carefully crown the spinach with two beautifully poached eggs
Ladle a spoonful or more of the Basil Cream Sauce
Garnish with a good grind of fresh black pepper and serve 
Oh! Don't forget to pop the yolk so it dribbles down the toast - yum

"Basil Cream Sauce also goes great alongside sauteed mushrooms or even a couple of thickly sliced and grilled tomatoes"

Monday, February 6, 2012

Spicy Tomato Relish

 A fellow foodie and much appreciated "taste tester" of my culinary creations just got back from a week long road trip.  Starting in Western Australia she and a friend, drove across the Nullarbor desert, through South Australia, and back to Victoria.  Traversing three states in a single week is quite an accomplishment especially if there were gastronomic adventures to be had.     
A short distance from the South Australian capital city, Adelaide, lies a quaint little town called Hahndorf.  I have visited here a couple of times and if it weren't a day's drive away I would make it a regular outing.  The town is a gourmet feast with plenty of providores and local produce available on Main Street to make you want to set up camp and stick around longer than you had planned.  There's just so much good food and drink to try there!  On returning to work yesterday, amidst telling me of her adventures, my traveling foodie friend mentioned that she stopped in Hahndorf, and as I expected - she loved it!  She brought in some a tomato relish that tasted sensational - unlike the regular commercial stuff, this one had a fresh kick to it and really brightened up my roast pork sandwich.  Unfortunately I only got to sample a spoonful, since she had found it so good and left me rations.  I scraped the bottle clean and enjoyed my lunch, nevertheless.  
Seeing the empty bottle on my desk in the afternoon set off a bright light in my head - a spark of inspiration.  Since I still had plenty of ripe tomatoes from my veggie garden sitting at home, it seemed like the perfect excuse to try my hand at my first relish.  The ingredients were listed on the bottle, so I couldn't go too wrong for a beginner, I would just tweak it a little to my liking.  Besides, it would be just like making jam - except with a lot of spices and chillies - well here goes!

Ingredients, makes about 250 grams of relish
500g x Tomatoes, medium to large sized ones
1 tbsp x Olive Oil
1 tsp x Black Mustard Seeds
1 tsp x Cumin Seeds
½ tsp x Turmeric Powder
½ tsp x Cumin Powder
1 tsp x Coriander Powder
1 tsp x Garlic Powder
1 tsp x Ginger Powder
2 x Fresh Red Chillies, chopped finely
2 tsp x Brown Sugar
1 tbsp x Red Wine Vinegar
1 tbsp x Oyster Sauce
Lemon Juice, to taste
Prepare the tomatoes by scoring them in quarters
Place them in a large bowl and pour boiling water to cover the tomatoes
After 10-15 minutes, using a paring knife, peel the tomatoes and chop them roughly
Place a heavy saucepan on the hob and heat the olive oil
Add the cumin and mustard seeds and stir for a minute or until the start to pop
Now add all the other dry spices and stir for 30 seconds until they are fragrant
Tip in the peeled and chopped tomatoes and chillies and bring to the boil
Stir in the brown sugar and red wine vinegar, cook for two minutes
Now add the oyster sauce and check the seasoning
Reduce heat to the lowest setting and cook for 30 minutes
Keep stirring frequently to avoid the mixture burning
Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice and remove from the heat
Transfer relish to a jar and allow to cool before sealing the lid
By the way, that's the same bottle that the Hahdorf Relish came in - "Reusing is far better than Recycling" 
"This relish went really well with my Angus Beef mince patties for dinner, I almost scraped the bottle clean again, but stopped myself as I will have to take some in to work tomorrow for a taste test."